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Rivalry adds to games' importance

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers

Rangers defenseman Michal Rozsival is no stranger to the rivalry with the Islanders. He has faced the Isles 51 times in his NHL career -- the most games he has played vs. any of the 29 other NHL teams.

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Henrik Lundqvist and Michal Rozsival are the two longest-tenured members of the New York Rangers, both wearing the Blueshirt for a sixth season after joining the club at the start of the 2005-06 campaign.

No two players are more qualified then to discuss the Rangers’ rivalry with the Islanders, whom the Blueshirts will face in a home-and-home set Thursday night at the Nassau Coliseum and Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

“The most important thing is to get the two points, but it’s always fun to play the other New York team,” said Lundqvist, who has appeared in 32 career games against the Islanders, posting a 17-9-5 record with two shutouts. “It means a little bit more to the people around you, so it definitely has an effect on me when I play against (the Islanders). You definitely want to be the best team in the area.”

Although the Islanders have struggled at, or near, the bottom of the league standings for several years, neither Lundqvist nor Rozsival believes that has taken away from the intensity of this rivalry.

“I think it still is what it was and always has been, it’s an intense rivalry,” said Rozsival, who has played in more career games against the Isles (51) than against any other team. “It’s a rivalry that’s been around for a long time, and it’s just as important to the players as it is to the fans. You always feel an extra boost going into these games.”

The two teams have met once this season, with the Islanders grabbing a wild 6-4 victory on home ice back on Oct. 11. Overall the Rangers and Islanders have met 229 times in the regular season, with the Blueshirts holding an all-time 108-97-19-5 edge in the series.

They have also met eight times in the playoffs -- with the Islanders winning five of those series. The most recent postseason meeting between the Rangers and Islanders took place in 1994, when the Blueshirts swept their Long Island rivals in a first-round series en-route to capturing the Stanley Cup.

“It’s going to be fun going out to their place because fans from both sides will be there cheering crazy,” said Rozsival. “It’s always a good atmosphere, so we’ll just have to be ready for it.”

Gaborik getting new linemate in Avery

Rangers head coach John Tortorella, searching for a way to create more consistent offensive pressure, has decided to move Sean Avery up to the top line where he will skate with Marian Gaborik and center Erik Christensen on Thursday night against the Islanders.

Rangers forward Marian Gaborik could get a big lift on Thursday when he looks across the ice and sees Sean Avery on the other side of Erik Christensen.
“Sean has played well, and other guys haven’t,” Tortorella said after practice on Wednesday. “Sean has been very effective two out of the last three games so we will give him the opportunity there.”

It is the head coach’s hope that Avery’s punishing work on the forecheck will help the Rangers -- in particular Gaborik and Christensen -- control the puck more and create more scoring chances.

“We’re still looking for a more consistent attack offensively,” said Tortorella. “I still think we need to have the puck a little bit more offensively. So we’ll go with the lines we practiced with today and see where we go with it.”

Tortorella also had center Derek Stepan in between Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan on Wednesday, and Brian Boyle was centering Ruslan Fedotenko and Brandon Prust, while Alex Frolov was on the left of Artem Anisimov with Todd White and Derek Boogaard sharing right wing.

“It certainly is an opportunity,” said Avery, who has one goal, nine assists, 10 points, and a plus-three plus/minus rating this season. “But there is pressure to make plays, so it’s a double-edged sword (playing with Gaborik).”
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